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Sir Peter Ramsbotham, British ambassador

Matt Schudel

When you pick up the phone here on the Obituaries desk, you never know who's going to be on the line. On Saturday, retired U.S. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) called in to reminisce about Sir Peter Ramsbotham, the British ambassador to the United States in the mid-1970s, who introduced the future senator to his future wife, actress Elizabeth Taylor.

Sen. Warner acknowledged how he and Miss Taylor met, but he really wanted to talk about an interesting collaboration between the United States and Great Britain during the U.S. bicentennial celebration of 1976.

Sen. Warner -- who was secretary of the Navy at the time -- served on a bicentennial commission with Ramsbotham and made a bold request of the British government.

"Our nation stands for the rule of law," the senator recalled saying to Ramsbotham, "and the foundation of that in many respects is the Magna Carta" -- the legal charter that is the basis of British common law.

There were only four copies of Magna Carta, which was written in 1215, and Sen. Warner asked if Britain could send one of them to the United States for the bicentennial.

"Well, that could be a bit of a steep climb," he recalled Ramsbotham saying. But the ambassador added: "You know, John, this is a jolly good idea."

After Queen Elizabeth and the British parliament agreed to the plan, a copy of the Magna Carta was sent across the Atlantic and put on display in the Capitol Rotunda for a year. Afterward, it was replaced by gold- and silver-engraved facsimile, which remained on view at the Capitol for years.

Summing up Ramsbotham's tenure as British ambassador, Sen Warner said, "He should be remembered for that historic contribution of bringing the Magna Carta to the United States."

By Matt Schudel  |  April 10, 2010; 12:52 PM ET
Categories:  Matt Schudel  
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